For Parents

For Parents

Being a Responsive Communication Partner

  As a parent, you are probably quick to notice any change in your child’s actions, emotions, and communication. You are keenly aware of their favorite toys, foods, and activities. You are responsive to their wants and needs. Your responsiveness may be a positive step in promoting your child’s development.

A responsive parenting interaction style is one in which a parent recognizes their child’s interests, body language, speech, non-verbal communication, and attentional focus and then reacts accordingly. Many early intervention strategies have targeted this astute observational skill that parents naturally have. With typically developing children, a responsive style has been shown to increase a child’s play skills, language, and social skills. Past studies have also found that for parents of children with ASD, the use of a responsive interaction style was linked to gains in their child’s spontaneous language as well as time spent in joint engagement.

What is a responsive interaction style?

A responsive interaction style can be better understood on a continuum from directive interaction to responsive interaction. To be truly responsive, a parent must provide appropriate and timely responses to their child’s verbal and nonverbal bids for communication. This includes obvious things such as speech and gestures, but also less obvious bids such as eye gaze, facial expression, and physical orientation. For young children with communication or developmental delays, such as ASD, it may be difficult for the parent to read their child’s less obvious bids for communication and past studies have targeted intervention on parent’s interaction style with the goal of improving the child’s communicative outcomes.

A recent study from Shire, Gulsrud, and Kasari (2016) examined the difference between two different interventions aimed at parents’ responsive behaviors. They sought to understand how parent responsivity changed over the course of the intervention and the effect it had on time spent jointly engaged with their child with ASD. The two interventions were JASPER on one hand and an individual parent education on the other. The researchers found that parents who were in the JASPER intervention had greater responsivity and spent more time jointly engaged with their child than parents in the individual education intervention. This was found both at the end of the intervention as well as six months later

So what does this mean for parents?

The unique position of a therapist acting as a coach for the parent in the JASPER intervention may be important in further understanding how parents can increase their responsivity skills. While it needs to be studied further, parents should feel supported and effective in their interactions with their child with the support of an interventionist as coach.

As mentioned in previous blogs, the importance of joint attention is key for language learning and social communication. When parents adopt a more responsive interaction style they are able to spend more time jointly engaged with their child, which in turn can lead to rich opportunities for language learning and social communication.


Shire, S. Y., Gulsrud, A., & Kasari, C. (2016). Increasing Responsive Parent–Child Interactions and Joint Engagement: Comparing the Influence of Parent-Mediated Intervention and Parent Psychoeducation. J Autism Dev Disord Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(5), 1737-1747. doi:10.1007/s10803-016-2702-z